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There is no shortage of people who have attempted to weave a story of poetic justice into Harvey Weinstein’s prison sentence of 23 years. One such example is Rebecca Solnit, a San Francisco writer, historian, and feminist, who uses the Weinstein case to allege in LitHub that all boys and men are simply incapable of empathy.
She admits that this kind of thing happens in women too, but that it is most obvious and prevalent in men. Of women, she writes that “to live in a society that puts a target on your back because of your category is a hard thing indeed.” What she appears to have missed is that she is guilty of doing the very thing she criticizes, which is lumping a whole people group into a single category: men.
Solnit criticised Weinstein as a powerful gatekeeper to Hollywood stories by women. While this is certainly true, it is also true that there are current Hollywood producers who hold a lot of power and get to make similar decisions on which stories get made and which don’t.
In Lit Hub, Solnit wrote that Weinstein “decided that some stories would be born, expensive, glamorous stories that cost more than a hundred minimum-wage earners might make in a hundred years.”
The real difference between Weinstein and the others is that he has been found guilty of sexual attacks against women, and the others haven’t. Solnit makes a gynocentric characterization of Hollywood stories shut down by powerful men as “strangled, murdered, stillborn, stunted stories.”
What this small list of adjectives fails to address is that Weinstein also rejected hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories pitched and created by men. Weinstein abused his power and sexually exploited women, and has been found criminally responsible, but it is also important to recognize that he was an elite who denied many individuals a chance at a professional career, regardless of race, sex, or any other immutable quality.
Solnit writes that the Hollywood machine “was complicit in allowing a system of silencing to exist, even a formal legal contract called a nondisclosure agreement, which meant that her (and sometimes his or their but so often her) story would be silent forever.”
This system was eventually exposed when the women broke their nondisclosure agreements in order to make their story known to the world. An important dimension left out of Solnit’s essay is that Harvey Weinstein, and his brother Bob, did not become what they were in a vacuum. There could have been tons of people who knew what was going on, including those who were not under NDAs. Where had those voices been for the past thirty years?
Solnit notes that she refused to screen a film Weinstein had asked her to watch. “I’m sick of the pretense of sympathetic interest in movies and books and the rest that murder women over and over,” she wrote, “and too many native women are being murdered without adding a fictional murder to the spatter pattern.”
This sentiment is an indictment on the behavior of all men. All women, according to Solnit, are made victims in that any woman who has to live in a world where other women are harmed has been harmed herself. But this idea makes people into constant and perepetual victims, since someone from every race and sex are harmed every day.
Not all men are like Harvey Weinstein. In fact, it is a very small minority. The vast majority of men would, and do, openly denounce Weinstein’s behavior, and are glad that he has been held criminally accountable. Each individual should be judged and criticized on the merits of their own actions. No two women or men have the same experience, and it is a mistake to assume they do.